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Dhaliwal gains election as Lathrop’s mayor

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POSTED November 7, 2012 2:26 a.m.

LATHROP – The official certification of votes from the Secretary of State might take several days.

But when the dust began to settle Tuesday night, it became clear that the era of Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos was coming to an end.

With more than 3,000 votes cast and tallied by midnight, the unofficial final total had Santos trailing challenger and sitting councilman Sonny Dhaliwal 2,260 votes to 1,092. It was enough to cast a somber tone over the election night gathering at Santos’ Woodfield Estates home where friends and family members assembled to watch the returns.

“He was somebody that always had the welfare of everybody in the community at heart,” said longtime friend and trusted advisor Bill Herrell. “They may not have agreed with his approach, but he had no self-serving motives. His goal was only to make Lathrop a better place for its residents.”

In what was a contentious and at times personal battle for the city’s top post, the campaign at times spilled over onto the dais and thus into the living rooms of Lathrop’s residents that watch the bi-monthly meetings on Comcast’s public access channel.

Last month Santos was essentially censured for making what were perceived to be retaliatory comments to a city employee that participated in an investigation into the Mayor for inappropriate conduct at City Hall – something that he shrugged off as a political witch hunt intended to derail his campaign.

But the public chastising that he took from his colleagues on the council – and Councilman Omar Ornelas in particular – was damning.

Dhaliwal – who did not return a phone call seeking comment – said during that meeting that he was running a positive, issues-based campaign and that his concerns rested in the job that Santos was doing in his official capacity.

Things took a turn, however, when City Council hopeful Balwant Singh Sandhu released a statement that accused Dhaliwal of “money laundering” after it was learned that a $500 donation that he made to the councilman’s campaign in 2010 went unreported on his campaign filing statements.

Sandhu said that he had heard that Dhaliwal was taking contributions for personal use and decided to look into whether the check – which was cashed the same week as the election – was ever formally disclosed. 

And things might not get any less tense for the five-member elected panel when they meet again on Monday, Nov. 19.

Because the next mayor and council won’t be sworn in until the Dec. 3, Santos will still serve in his official sworn capacity for one more full meeting before Dhalwial will get to take over the reins of the city.

The two-term councilman – who served as a Planning Commissioner prior to running for elected office – earned the endorsement of the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association.

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